Titus Andronicus: “The Airing of Grievances”
As an English major with a Philosophy minor, I can’t help but feel a certain kinship to Titus Andronicus. After all, they draw their name from a frequently-overlooked, even maligned Shakespearean play, and even quote the Bard himself at the end of their new album’s opening track. The same album ends with a song called “Albert Camus,” nicks lyrics from The Stranger, and makes more than a few passing references to existentialism.
But if they take obvious inspiration from The Bard, they borrow just as much from The Boss. Despite the academic stuffiness that their name and their subject matter might imply-not to mention the genteel delicacy of their album title, The Airing of Grievances-Titus Andronicus is loud, rowdy blue-collar rock, with the E-Street band as an obvious touchstone, and even some passing similarities to U2, at least in their arena-ready bombast, if not in their actual sound. But they’re not a Springsteen knockoff, not really; Titus’ music is much more overblown, violent, and dramatic than anything Bruce has ever attempted. They paint in the broadest possible strokes, crafting larger-than-life choruses out of messy guitar riffs, thundering drums, and liberal helpings of harmonica and organ, with a vocalist who yelps and slurs his way through these songs like Conner Oberst aping Craig Finn. It’s a raucous, beer-swilling good time, high on energy and low on subtlety, and the vocals are buried deep within the mix, giving it a hazy, inebriated feel that captures the band’s raw, live sound.
And it’s a good thing the music packs such a punch; were it any less wild and wooly, the darkness of the lyrics would threaten to capsize the entire thing. The worldview of Titus Andronicus is not a pretty one; apparently all their philosophy classes have led them to disbelief in God, in justice, in any meaning at all, and so there’s a potent sense of nihilism-part embittered, part resigned-that hangs over the whole record. First song “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” is the sound of pure menace, an anthem of sin without consequence; the next song, “My Time Outside the Womb,” is just as hopeless as its title suggests. The album’s rallying cry: “Your life is over!” It’s hardly an inspiring record, but it’s certainly a cathartic one; these lyrics may be rife with frustration and meaninglessness, but they couldn’t have found a better soundtrack than Titus Andronicus’ soul-stirring, fist-shaking ruckus. Even though there’s no hope to be found in the words, the mere fact that they’re still singing-and making such a spectacular noise-is proof enough that they haven’t given up just yet. And that’s what ultimately makes Titus Andronicus’ peculiar brand of postmodern blues worthwhile; there’s a genuine sense of release here, a powerful outpouring of raw, primal emotions that invites the listener to howl along, fist pumping in the air, and-for those of us who don’t think life is meaningless-to pray for better times.